All your cooking questions answered-you know, the ones you're afraid to ask aloud for fear of sounding as if you've been living off pizza delivery and uncooked ramen. No judgment here.
1. How do you keep pasta from clumping?
You don't want your pasta to stick together like mob wives in an FBI investigation, so make sure you're boiling it in plenty of salted water (4-6 quarts per pound of pasta) in a large enough pot. Don't overcook. (Follow the cooking time on the package; pasta should be al dente, or still slightly firm). Do not rinse after boiling unless you're using it in a cold dish. If you're not otherwise saucing it, toss with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff).
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2. How do you know if wine has gone bad?
If wine smells vinegary or mildewy (like wet newspaper), it's gone bad. If wine (red or white) looks brown, it's gone bad. If wine tastes funny, it's gone bad. If wine came out of a box, it was probably not good to begin with.
3. How do you keep herbs fresh?
The dried, pale ghosts of herbs you get from a spice rack just aren't the same as the fresh stuff. To keep leafy herbs fresher longer, treat them like cut flowers. Trim the stems, submerge stems (or roots, if the plant is still living) in an inch or two of water in a glass or jar, cover loosely with a plastic baggie, and store in the refrigerator (exception: basil should be kept at room temperature-meaning out of the fridge but not next to your stove). Change the water every few days.
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4. How do you keep from crying when cutting onions?
There is a saying in the kitchen world: "The sharper your knife, the less you cry." Onions sting your eyes because, when you cut them, you rupture cells, leading to a chemical reaction that produces acidic gases that trigger your reflexive tear response. Sharper knives rupture fewer cells, hence less crying. Other strategies include freezing the onion first, cutting it under cold running water, burning a candle nearby, wearing goggles, and my personal favorite, making someone else do it.
5. How do you know if eggs are fresh?
A fresh egg will feel heavy and sink to the bottom of a bowl of water, lying on its long side. A less fresh egg will stand on end in the bowl of water. A bad egg will float. When in doubt, use your eyes and your nose; a rotten egg is pretty hard to miss. One side note: older eggs are actually better for soufflés than farm-fresh.
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6. How do you know if cheese has gone bad?
It seems a little counterintuitive, as mold is essential to cheese, but if you see mold on your cheese (fuzzy, green, lichen-looking stuff-not the blue veins in your Gorgonzola), it's gone bad. It also should not feel slimy or oily. And while some cheeses start out smelly, if a normally non-smelly cheese, like provolone or mozzarella, starts stinking up the fridge, it's probably time to let it go.
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